Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Political Information Efficacy?

Sometimes you discover a familiar friend with a new name.  It happens all the time in social science, especially if you read across disciplines.  A political scientist might call a concept by one label, a psychologist by another, and a mass comm scholar, oh we'll come up with one of our own.

So when I read this study about political information efficacy, it was like finding an old friend.

Kaid and her colleagues in an American Behavioral Science article attack the question of low political participation among young adults by looking also at not only their political knowledge, but their confidence in their knowledge.   Or, as they write:
Our own research suggests that there is yet another reason for concern about low levels of political information and accurate knowledge among young citizens. We have found a strong relationship between young voters’ perceptions or confidence in their political knowledge and the likelihood that they will exercise their right to vote.
Political efficacy is traditionally broken into either external efficacy (beliefs in the government's responsiveness) and internal efficacy (one's own competence to handle the complexities of political discourse). "Our theory of political information efficacy," the authors write, "is closely related to internal efficacy but differs in that it focuses solely on the voter’s confidence in his or her own political knowledge and its sufficiency to engage the political process (to vote)." 

In other words, perceived knowledge. 

Find Note 4 in the study and you discover the items used to measure political information efficacy.  Oh hell, I'll save you the trouble.  They are, on a 5-point agree-disagree continuum:
  •  I consider myself well qualified to participate in politics
  • I think that I am better informed about politics and government than most people
  • I feel that I have a pretty good understanding of the important political issues facing our country
  • If a friend asked me about the presidential election, I feel I would have enough information to help my friend figure out who to vote for.
The internal consistency or reliability seems fine, with a reported Cronbach's Alpha of .87.  No surprise there.  They all measure the same thing -- Internal Efficacy.  But it sounds cooler if you come up with your own label and call it a theory; you get scholarly bonus points.  It's a helluva good study, but I'm just saying ...

So what did they find?  Ahhh, young grasshopper, that is a blog post for another day.  Stay tuned, because I'll talk not only about the findings but whether they mean anything today.

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